NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

Analyzing McShay mock: Cowboys 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:15
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"Draft Day" is a movie starring Kevin Costner as the Cleveland Browns' general manager. In this mock draft, ESPN Insider draft analyst Todd McShay is playing general manager of the Dallas Cowboys.

In his four previous mock drafts, McShay has had the Cowboys taking a defensive player. Considering the state of the defense in 2013 and the needs all across the board, selecting defensive end Stephon Tuitt, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Timmy Jernigan (in Mocks 3.0 and 4.0) makes perfect sense.

But McShay changes it up in his most recent mock, going to the offensive side of the ball.


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IRVING, Texas -- The NFL draft is coming up, but we break out Five Wonders on a Thursday to talk about the Dallas Cowboys' schedule.

Away we go:

  • [+] EnlargeTony Romo
    AP Photo/Evan VucciTony Romo and the Cowboys will have at least five prime-time games in 2014.
    I wonder just how seriously the Cowboys were considered to be the Seattle Seahawks’ opponent in Week 1. The Cowboys have five prime-time games despite their lack of playoff success in recent years and would have been a good draw. The Green Bay Packers got the nod, which will bring up the “Fail Mary” talk from the 2011 season when replacement refs were used early in the season. The Cowboys opened the 2012 season at MetLife Stadium after the New York Giants won the Super Bowl the previous season. The Cowboys won that game, too. Had the Cowboys been the pick this year you can bet the 2006 wild-card game would have been front and center with NBC showing a lot of highlights of Tony Romo’s bobbled snap.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys leave for London on Nov. 3, the day after they play the Arizona Cardinals. It would give them extra time to get acclimated to the time change after a long flight to get ready to play the Jacksonville Jaguars. Late last year I wondered if the Cowboys would play an East Coast game against the Giants, Philadelphia Eagles or Washington Redskins and left the next day for London. That would have been a long time on the road, so this possible schedule would seem to work better.
  • I wonder if the networks agree with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones when he mentioned how good of a show Dallas provided after their loss last year to the Packers. Well, not really. I know they agree with Jones on that. And that’s why the Cowboys have the maximum amount of prime-time games and could find themselves playing in prime time a sixth time thanks to the flex scheduling later in the year. The Cowboys will be playing night games on NBC (three times), CBS/NFL Network (once) and ESPN (once). I wonder if the networks would petition for more Cowboys games if the club could actually have, you know, actual playoff success, too.
  • I wonder what kind of record the Cowboys need to have in the first half of the season to make a playoff run in the second half. They are on the road in four of the final six games of the year. Three of their first five games are at AT&T Stadium and they have a three-game homestand in Weeks 7-9. That would appear to be the must-win territory to build up a cushion down the stretch.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys believe in climate change. Three of their four games in December might have them in coooooooold temperatures. We know it will be cold in Chicago for the Dec. 4 meeting against the Bears at Soldier Field. It was a ridiculous 8 degrees with a minus-9 wind chill when these teams met on Dec. 9, 2013, in what turned out to be a 45-28 Chicago win. Ten days later, the Cowboys play at Philadelphia. In the Dec. 8, 2013, game at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles beat the Detroit Lions in a blizzard. The Cowboys close the year Dec. 28 in Washington. It might be warm, but it might be coooooooold, too. And Redskins fans might want to hope for snow or ice so they can throw it at the Cowboys as they go off the field.

Dallas Cowboys schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Despite not having made the playoffs since 2009, the Cowboys remain a popular national team with five prime-time games. But if they are to stop the playoff-less streak, they will have to start fast and hold the fort late in the season. Three of the Cowboys' first five games come against teams that did not make the playoffs last season: at the Tennessee Titans, at the St. Louis Rams and at home against the Houston Texans. The other two home games are against two of the best teams in the NFC in the San Francisco 49ers (Sept. 7) and New Orleans Saints (Sept. 28). Because of their Nov. 9 trip to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys don’t have their bye week until Nov. 16, but the close of the season is particularly tough with four of their last six games coming on the road with trips at the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and finale at the Washington Redskins.

Complaint department: The schedule maker did not do the Cowboys any favors with their Thanksgiving matchup with a night game at the Giants. The Cowboys will not get back to Dallas until early Monday morning with a short week to get ready for the Eagles. The Cowboys shouldn't have to play a road game the week before the Thanksgiving matchup, and playing a night game is borderline unfair. The Cowboys will not get their customary 10-day break until after they play at the Bears on Dec. 4. The Cowboys had a similar Thursday-Thursday schedule in 2007 when they finished 13-3. They can only hope to be as fortunate in 2014.

Not safe at home: AT&T Stadium has not created the home-field advantage the Dallas Cowboys have craved since moving into the $1.2 billion facility in 2009, and the Cowboys will be tested at home in 2014. The Cowboys welcome four playoff teams from 2013 to Arlington: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Indianapolis and New Orleans. Plus Arizona won 10 games last year. The Cowboys have beaten the Giants just once at home since 2009 and Houston has more talent than its 2-14 record indicates. The Cowboys are 22-18 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium. The easiest formula to make the playoffs is to win your home games and split them on the road. That will be a tough case for the Cowboys in 2014.

Strength of schedule: The Cowboys have the second-toughest schedule in the NFC East based on 2013 winning percentage, following the Washington Redskins (No. 17, .490). The Philadelphia Eagles won the division last year and have the 20th-ranked schedule (.490).

Strength of schedule: 18th, .488 | Vegas over/under : 8

Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 4, at Chicago, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Washington, 1 p.m.

The Dallas Cowboys have done two things this offseason, add to the defensive line and to the quarterback position.

On Wednesday afternoon, the team signed Caleb Hanie to a one-year contract to become the fourth quarterback on the roster. Hanie's signing is insurance if Kyle Orton, the current No. 2, retires or forces the team to release him.

Hanie
Orton has missed the early stages of the offseason program, which started on Monday. While those programs are voluntary, the quarterback should always be at these affairs. Tony Romo, recovering from back surgery, was in full attendance at Valley Ranch on Monday and has been around the facility most of the offseason.

Financially, it just doesn't make sense for Orton to leave the Cowboys. He loses $3.2 million in base salary should he retire, and he could be forced to pay back roughly $3 million in bonuses. However, Orton might just be forced to repay $510,000, which is the signing bonus he picked up last year from a re-negotiated contract from last March.

However the financials work out, losing Orton in any way, means the team's quarterback position gets weaker behind Romo.

Orton was a solid backup and worth the money the Cowboys were paying him to support Romo. But if he's gone, the options are limited.

Brandon Weeden played two seasons in Cleveland and despite his age (30), he's still relatively young in NFL years.

Hanie, a Forney, Texas native, didn't play last season in Cleveland, yet in 2011 he went 0-4 as a starter for the Chicago Bears with three touchdown passes and nine interceptions thrown. When Romo injured his back and the Cowboys worked out a gaggle of quarterbacks last December, Hanie looked very good during his visit.

But the Cowboys went with Jon Kitna instead because he was familiar with Jason Garrett's offense.

Now, after another workout on Wednesday, Hanie looked sharp again and this time he was signed to the one-year deal.

Of course, Hanie, Weeden and Orton might not be here, if at all in 2014, should the Cowboys select a quarterback in the early rounds of next month's draft. We're not even going into the Johnny Manziel talk because it's doubtful he'll fall to No. 16 overall.

The Cowboys have greater needs for their team -- especially on defense, which finished last overall in 2013. Getting a defensive end and maybe a right tackle are priorities. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the offseason work, in terms of signing three defensive linemen, has prompted the team to draft for the best player available, instead of forcing to draft for a need.

Hanie gives the Cowboys flexibility as a No. 2 quarterback -- if he can beat out Weeden.

It's amazing how the Cowboys' backup quarterback, the same player, who almost beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 regular-season finale, has turned the offseason upside down with his indecision to play.

But the Cowboys made the right decision on Wednesday in getting Hanie, because there's nothing wrong with a little insurance.
IRVING, Texas -- Before people get carried away with Kyle Orton's absence from the Dallas Cowboys' offseason program, two factors need to be put out there: the workouts are voluntary and he missed just one day.

But the Cowboys should not look at Orton's absence as a one-day deal. They should take a worst-case scenario look at it. They need to determine whether Orton really wants to play football in 2014, despite what they heard from the player's agent and the fact Orton would be walking away from $3.25 million.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGiven some of the current uncertainty surrounding backup Kyle Orton, should the Cowboys look to select a quarterback in next month's draft?
It could be as simple as him not wanting to play anymore. He is the second-highest paid backup quarterback in the NFL behind Matt Moore ($4 million) of the Miami Dolphins, so money wouldn't seem to be an issue. He has been content in his role as a backup to Tony Romo, so opportunity wouldn't seem to be an issue.

Undoubtedly the Cowboys have spoken directly to Orton this offseason with the whispers of him thinking about retirement. What was discussed is not known. Did he tell them he would play or not play?

Orton holds the cards here because he does not have to show up until the mandatory June minicamp. If he does not report for that, then he would face fines up to close to $70,000. If he does report, what kind of condition is he in?

The Cowboys can trade him or release him. What kind of return would they get for a player who may or may not report to a new team? If they release him, then they would forfeit the right to pick up $3 million of the $5 million signing bonus he received in 2011. After the Jeremiah Ratliff fiasco, you would think the Cowboys would be more vigilant in these kinds of cases.

They could keep him and hope he arrives at the June minicamp in good shape and is ready to go when the team reports to Oxnard, Calif., for training camp. Hope, however, should not be their strategy.

Yet there is a more immediate question raised from Orton's absence. Does it push quarterback up the ladder when it comes to the draft?

The Cowboys signed Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal in the offseason with no signing bonus. They liked him coming into the 2012 draft, but not as much as the Cleveland Browns liked him. He had more interceptions than touchdown passes, but the Cowboys have taken a no-risk look at him.

What can they learn about Weeden before the draft? Not much. Coaches are not allowed on the field with the players until Phase 2 of the offseason program, which comes the week of the draft.

The Cowboys attended Aaron Murray's workout at Georgia last week. They talked with Jimmy Garoppolo and David Fales at the NFL scouting combine. They had a number of quarterbacks at their Dallas Day workouts last week in Garrett Gilbert, Casey Pachall and James Franklin, but they did not have a quarterback among their national visitors.

The Cowboys aren't exactly being held hostage by Orton, but his decision (or indecision) could go a long way in how they plan to attack the draft.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • Why the Cowboys would even consider drafting offense in the first round.
  • Why the Cowboys could draft offensive line in the first round.
  • Why the coaching staff could look a lot different.
  • Why I think the Cowboys would pass on Teddy Bridgewater.

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will exercise the fifth-year option on Tyron Smith's contract, keeping the 2011 first-round pick with the team at least through 2015.

Smith
Smith’s agent, Joe Panos, told 105.3 The Fan on Friday that the option has not been picked up yet but “they told me it’s going to happen.” A source indicated Thursday that the Cowboys had already exercised the option, like teams had done earlier in the day with other first-round picks from the 2011 draft, like Houston’s J.J. Watt.

Once the Cowboys pick up the option, Smith will earn $10.039 million in 2015, but it would not preclude the team and Smith from working out a multi-year deal, which is the hope. The 2015 base salary is guaranteed for injury and would become fully guaranteed if Smith is on the roster the first day of the league year in 2015.

The Cowboys took Smith with the ninth pick in the 2011 draft, and he has missed just one game in three seasons. He played right tackle as a rookie before moving to left tackle in his second year. He earned his first Pro Bowl appearance last season.

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have to pay Smith the transition tag money due to offensive linemen in 2014 ($10.039 million) because he was a top-10 pick. The Cowboys had to pick up the option by May 2 or Smith would have become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Smith, who does not turn 24 until December, is considered one of the best offensive linemen in the game. The Cowboys want to sign Smith to a long-term deal and have made him a priority, as well as wide receiver Dez Bryant, whose contract expires after the 2014 season.

Smith signed a four-year, $12.496 million deal in 2011 that was fully guaranteed and included a $7.588 million signing bonus.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • What I would do with the 16th pick in the draft if I was the general manager.
  • What about a quarterback in the second round?
  • What about Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne?
  • What about the salary-cap implications of letting Kyle Orton go?

Away we go:
 
IRVING, Texas -- So far Mel Kiper Jr. has followed the Dallas Cowboys' draft needs in his mock drafts.

In his first two mocks, he offered up Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. In his third, he went with Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. In his Grade A mock, he went with Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

In Kiper's Mock draft 4.0 , he has gone away from the defensive side of the ball.


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IRVING, Texas -- Josh Mauro was like a lot of kids growing up in the area. He was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. He even attended the final game at Texas Stadium, a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. He hoped one day he would wear the star on his helmet.

[+] EnlargeJosh Mauro
George Frey/Getty ImagesTexas native Josh Mauro had a breakout season for the Stanford Cardinal in 2013.
Today Mauro, who played defensive line at Stanford after leaving Hurst L.D. Bell, is at Valley Ranch with other Dallas Day hopefuls -- working out for the team while his immediate family watches. Mauro will be joined by other locals like TCU safety Elisha Olabode, Missouri quarterback James Franklin (Corinth), Abilene Christian receiver Taylor Gabriel (Mesquite), Miami defensive back Kacy Rodgers (Southlake Carroll) -- whose dad was the Cowboys defensive line coach from 2003-07 -- and North Texas running back Zach Orr (DeSoto).

"It's kind of like a dream come true," Mauro said. "Playing Pee Wee football and high school, you see the Cowboys and it's like a dream to think you could play for them. This isn't a sign-up for the Cowboys, but to even have the opportunity to work out for them is something special."

Mauro, 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, played defensive end, defensive tackle and even some nose tackle for Stanford. He had 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, six quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and an interception for one of the best defenses in college football in 2013.

He knows the Cowboys have defensive line needs, too. He knows DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos, Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins and Anthony Spencer remains unsigned. He is aware they signed Henry Melton.

"You're talking two, possibly three starters up front in that defense that aren't there anymore," Mauro said.

Mauro met with Cowboys assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett and other coaches at the NFL scouting combine in February. He played in the East-West Shrine Game and worked out in California, with former Stanford players like Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener and other current NFL players.

"It's a great work environment, just getting to be with guys that are like minded and in the NFL," Mauro said. "I've been able to learn a lot from them."

ESPN Insiders have him as the 21st ranked defensive end, but his versatility puts him on the radar of 4-3 and 3-4 teams. Having played in a multiple defenses used at Stanford also helps. When he arrived at Stanford, Vic Fangio was his coordinator. Fangio now runs the San Francisco 49ers defense. Josh Tarver took over for Fangio, and he now runs the Oakland Raiders defense. Derek Mason took over for Tarver and he is now the head coach at Vanderbilt.

"Say a team runs a 3-4, the guys they'll have aren't just the typical big, block squares just two-gapping," Mauro said. "It's a passing league. You've got to be able to play different personnel. Look at a team like New England. They might have one down lineman and standing up the other 10 guys. The game is so different. It's not the traditional tight end, two backs, two wide receivers. It could be three, four, five wide receivers. The name of the game is to get to the quarterback. I've been able to do that at Stanford from a lot of different positions. Nowadays getting to the quarterback whether it be from the nine technique or nose guard, you've got to be able to create mismatches for people in different positions."

He worked out for the Atlanta Falcons and will work out for the New York Giants next week, followed by visits with the 49ers and Raiders.

"I still remember we wrote our goal letters at every training period at Stanford," Mauro said. "My first goal was to eventually become a starter at Stanford, an All-American defensive end and be a future first-round pick. Now coming out of high school that was a very, very ambitious goal and I wasn't heavily recruited. I had a few offers, but I always set the bar high so even if I fall short of my expectations I'd still end up in a good place. I always believed in it. Three years in the program I hadn't played very much. The fourth year I came in off the bench and was the energy guy … . My fifth year I ended up starting 11 games and was productive and helped one of the best defenses in the nation. Everything is kind of surreal. You couldn't plan it out. You just always have to believe in yourself if no one is believing in you."
The Dallas Cowboys have three quarterbacks on their roster and expect to keep it that way when the 2014 regular season begins.

However, it doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t look at some quarterbacks.

Team officials are in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday looking at University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. Among the officials in attendance is Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson.

Murray
There is no expectation the Cowboys will draft Murray in the later rounds of next month’s draft, but the team is doing its due diligence, much like it did two years ago with Brandon Weeden.

When Weeden was entering the draft from Oklahoma State, Cowboys officials met with him and kept watch from afar. After Weeden was released by the Cleveland Browns this spring, the Cowboys jumped at the chance to sign him because they had done the research necessary to make a move.

With the amount of money invested in starting quarterback Tony Romo and backup Kyle Orton, the team isn't trying to draft a quarterback in the first two rounds. Finding a future replacement for Romo isn't a high priority, but they are looking for a quality young backup. Though Weeden is 30, he has only two years of NFL experience, so that justifies the Cowboys signing him.

Also, the Cowboys are expected to void out the last few years of Orton's contract, making him a free agent after the 2014 season.

Murray is projected as a middle-round draft selection, but ESPN’s Jon Gruden was impressed with him.

Gruden said Murray, who is fully recovered after tearing his ACL in his left knee last November, has deep-ball accuracy, good touch on the ball and will be “the steal for somebody” in the draft. Cowboys' officials aren't in love with Murray's height, 6-1, but they believe he's got a strong enough arm to make the necessary throws in the NFL.

Murray is the all-time leading passer in SEC history and holds the school record with 121 career touchdowns.

The Cowboys haven’t met with any of the top quarterbacks at Valley Ranch during their 30 pre-draft visits. It could be a smoke screen, or the simple fact the team isn’t drafting a quarterback.

Team officials are quite familiar with all the top quarterbacks, and their closer look at Murray might not mean anything now, but could be something for the future.
IRVING, Texas -- In a recent ranking of sports franchises, the Dallas Cowboys had the highest value of any NFL team, checking in at $2.3 billion.

The Cowboys doled out an average yearly salary of $1.875 million in 2013, which ranked 156th among 294 teams in 15 leagues in seven sports across the globe, according to the survey done by ESPN The Magazine/SportingIntelligence Global Salary Survey.

The Cowboys were 21st among NFL teams in average yearly salary. The Seattle Seahawks were No. 1 at $2.303 million, which was 116th in the overall survey. The Cowboys ranked just below Southampton ($1.893 million) of the English Premier League and just ahead of the NHL's Florida Panthers ($1.850 million).

For the NFL teams, large rosters combined with many players making the league minimum (based on years accrued) led to the lower average annual salaries. Manchester City of the EPL checked in at No. 1 overall at $8.109 million, ahead of the New York Yankees ($8.031 million).

Of the top 25 highest-paid athletes in the world, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo checked in at No. 14 at $26.5 million thanks to the six-year, $108 million extension he signed last offseason that included a $25 million signing bonus.

Romo fit between Formula One drivers Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton ($27.5 million each) and Manchester United's Wayne Rooney ($26 million).
Will McClayAP Photo/James D SmithAssistant director of player personnel Will McClay, 47, will be an asset to the Cowboys in May's draft.
IRVING, Texas -- There is a Herm Edwards story that keeps coming back to Will McClay, especially now.

The story is from more than 10 years ago, when Edwards was coach of the New York Jets. As a boy, Edwards' father made him sweep the back patio of their house. When Edwards was done, his father went out back, saw the pile his son made and immediately went to the corners. They were untouched.

The message that stuck with McClay when he first heard the story was simple: Details matter.

In his current job as the Dallas Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, McClay is sweeping the corners.

In this case, sweeping the corners is looking anywhere and everywhere for a player to help the Cowboys in next month's draft. This is McClay's first as the Cowboys' highest-ranked personnel chief not named Jones.

"He's there night and day," said McClay's former Arena Football League assistant and confidante Terry Gray. "He's got a relentless passion to provide Mr. [Jerry] Jones and Stephen [Jones] the very best product available within the means and the parameters of what he's able to work with. He's nonstop. Nonstop. He doesn't sleep a whole lot."

There will be time to sleep after the draft. Maybe McClay, 47, can sneak in a little bit in June after the minicamp ends but before training camp in Oxnard, Calif., begins in late July.

For now, sleep can wait. McClay, whom the Cowboys declined to make available for this story, is in charge of putting the Cowboys' draft room together. It is a painstaking process that takes months to go through but picks up its pace in the final few weeks before the Cowboys pick No. 16 overall in the first round on May 8.

This week, nearly 30 players from across the country will visit Valley Ranch, wrapping up on Wednesday. On Thursday, the club will host its Dallas Day workouts for the local draft prospects. When it is all over, McClay and the scouting department will be back in the office grinding away, sweeping the corners.

McClay's rise to this current position has taken him through the Arena Football League as a player and coach, the defunct XFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was the assistant director of pro scouting. He joined the Cowboys organization in 2002 as defensive coordinator of the AFL's Dallas Desperados and became the head coach in 2004. He also served as a pro scout for the Cowboys, and in 2012 he was named the director of football research. Last spring he was promoted to his current title.

"Everything equates in looking at talent," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us. I commend him on the job he did finding guys like [George] Selvie and [Nick] Hayden, people like that. People that everybody had a shot at, but he brought them in."

Over the past few years, the Cowboys have found several prizes in street free agency in Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Eric Frampton, Ernie Sims and Selvie, who had seven sacks last season. The Cowboys dressed 20 different defensive linemen in 2013.

McClay spent most of the season sweeping the corners for defensive linemen. And he was doing it long before he ever heard Edwards' tale. He did it at Houston Marian Christian, playing wide receiver as a freshman and quarterback as a senior to win Class 3A state titles in the Texas Christian Interscholastic League in 1981 and ‘84.

His high school coach, Mike Treybig, remembers walking into his office only to see McClay feeding the 16-millimeter film into the projector.

"

He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us.

" -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones on assistant director of player personnel William McClay
"William liked watching tape," Treybig said. "I would imagine he would've loved it if we let him call his own plays. I know there were times we allowed him to do that. He was definitely a student of the game. We didn't have to worry about a lot of stuff when it came to William. We knew he did his homework and would take care of things to give us the best chance to win on that Friday."

McClay could have gone to Nebraska, but he chose Rice instead to stay close to home and played defensive back. He was recruited there by Mike Nolan, the current defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Tyrone Willingham, the former head coach at Notre Dame and Stanford, was the receivers coach at the time.

He remembers questions from McClay about what receivers looked for, searching for ways to get better as a defender even if the wins did not come as much as the Owls would have liked. Willingham and McClay remain close to this day.

"I'm personally excited for the individual, but I'm more excited for the organization because they did not let talent, for one reason or another, slip through the cracks," Willingham said. "That, to me, is so important because when you have talent you want to let it rise to the top to better everyone else in the organization."

Clint Dolezel played two years at East Texas State, throwing for 3,152 yards and 22 touchdown passes. McClay was defensive coordinator with a hand in personnel for the Milwaukee Mustangs in 1995 when Dolezel was recommended and eventually signed.

By the time Dolezel retired in 2008 with the Desperados with McClay as his head coach, he threw for 44,563 yards and 931 touchdowns.

"So many scouts get caught up in the fact, ‘Well, we want him because he went to this big school,'" said Dolezel, now the head coach of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul. "And a lot of times they're right, but those are the no-brainers that no one is pointing a finger at if he doesn't pan out. Hey, he had the pedigree because he went to Texas or Oklahoma or Florida State or Alabama. The good ones find the ones at East Texas State and schools like that."

In his interview with the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin had McClay research a particular free-agent cornerback the team was high on and wanted to sign. McClay watched the tape and concluded that the player would not be worth the money or fit in the system. Coughlin briefly objected, but McClay held firm. He got the job, and the Jaguars did not sign the player.

"There is not a magic formula," Gray said. "It's just good, old-fashioned bust-your-ass hard work and lots and lots of tape. Lots of calls. Lots of research. Just looking at thousands of players until you find one you think fits for you. He's just got a very unique way knowing a football player when he sees one. That's commonly described by a lot of people, but he just knows it at a different level. It's more than just everybody saying, ‘He can't play.' It's Will finding guys that can play that no one considered.

"Will McClay is a machine. He's a film-watching, evaluating, researching machine. He just never stops and he will never stop."

There always will be corners to sweep.
Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was in Las Vegas last week talking about why AT&T Stadium is a good place to host the Academy of Country Music Awards.

The $1.2 billion palace has hosted boxing matches, basketball games, football games, bowling events, rodeos and Jones has even hinted about hosting an Olympic-styled swim meet. It’s centrally located between Dallas and Fort Worth, and is approximately a 15-minute drive to the airport.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
AP Photo/James D. SmithJerry Jones is like most any other NFL owner -- he wants to win and he wants his club to earn money.
During his chat, Jones talked about why his Cowboys are the most popular team in sports.

"As you know, the Cowboys have not gone to the playoffs in several years,” Jones said. “We have not gone. Yet we're the most popular TV show there is on television. We lead all teams in TV ratings. We lead, 24 out of the last top 25 shows were NFL games, and any time your Cowboys play, and they’re up there at the top and leading."

That comment has led many to believe Jones’ goals have changed, that he doesn’t care about winning anymore and all he wants to do is market his team.

Jones is right, the Cowboys are leaders in TV ratings. And those ratings are why the networks, including ESPN, want his team on late Sunday afternoon games with 80 percent of the country watching. It’s why networks want the Cowboys to play on Sunday nights and Monday nights.

Fans watch.

But it's wrong to think Jones doesn’t care about championships.

That is all he thinks about.

Every day.

While the process is flawed in getting a fourth championship ring on his finger, his commitment is stronger than ever.

Jones is committed to coach Jason Garrett -- for at least one more season -- and he feels Garrett can take his franchise on a deep playoff run.

Jones isn't one of those owners afraid to spend money. He's given huge contracts to Miles Austin, Jeremiah Ratliff, Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware over the years. He believed those players could help him win a championship.

This offseason, Garrett talked about the Cowboys needing to get younger, which produced questions regarding a rebuilding effort at Valley Ranch.

Jones said you don’t rebuild with Romo at quarterback. Retool, maybe, but not rebuild.

The Cowboys expect to reach the postseason every season. But the reality is they missed out by losing in the regular-season finale in each of the past three seasons.

Jones felt the sting of those losses and tried to fix the franchise each offseason, whether that meant firing assistant coaches, releasing top players or changing the duties of coaches and front office personnel.

He wants to win in the worst way.

You may not like how Jones runs his football business, but don't question the commitment. Jones is being honest about what the Cowboys represent: A popular NFL team that makes money. And let's be honest, that’s what the 31 other NFL owners want from their franchises.

You don't think Robert Kraft wants to make money with the New England Patriots? Of course he does.

Again, the process in which the Cowboys go about their on-the-field business may be flawed, but the way things are going off the field is just fine.

If anything, it’s the best in sports.

Please, don’t get mad at Jones for that.
IRVING, Texas -- Whenever Jerry Jones speaks, you must remember there are two Jerrys.

There is Jerry Jones the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium and countless other business ventures. And there is Jerry Jones the general manager of the Cowboys.

In pumping up the 50th anniversary of the Academy of Country Music Awards that will come to AT&T Stadium next year, Jones had his owner hat on when he said the following:

“As you know, the Cowboys have not gone to the playoffs in several years. We have not gone. Yet we're the most popular TV show there is on television. We lead all teams in TV ratings, 24 out of the last top 25 shows were NFL games. And any time your Cowboys play, they're up there at the top and leading.”

In other words, the Cowboys are famous for being famous, not for what they actually do. It’s a maddening statistic that Jones always cites. There is nothing incorrect about it, but are the Cowboys popular because they play good football? Their .500 record over the last decade-plus suggests otherwise. Are the Cowboys popular because they are a team others loathe? There is probably some of that, too. Are the Cowboys popular because of the inventive ways they lose and the types of games they play? There is some of that too.

All of it adds up to a ratings bonanza and why the Cowboys, despite their record, will be on national television so much in 2014 when the schedule is released soon.

ESPN NFL columnist Ashley Fox took Jones to task for the comments over the weekend. She didn’t separate Jerry the owner from Jerry the general manager.

Most important is whether Jones can separate the two titles? He is the only owner/general manager in the NFL. Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown doesn’t carry the title even if the final call is his. But Brown does not have the outside business interests of Jones. He is not trying to turn Paul Brown Stadium into a destination spot the way Jones has done with AT&T Stadium.

Of course, Jones also has had to pay off more than $700 million of the stadium since the city of Arlington’s contribution was capped at $325 million.

The sad fact for Cowboys fans is that there is never a clear-cut answer as to whether football is the No. 1 priority when it comes to how Jones operates the team. Jones will say it is and always will be, and there is no doubt he wants to win badly.

However, when Henry Melton made his free-agent visit, Jones was away from Valley Ranch tending to other business interests. Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett handled the visit and Melton signed on with the club. But how many other general managers wouldn’t be on hand when a free agent, especially one as important as Melton, is visiting? It is between none and nil.

When the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum opened last spring on draft day, Jerry Jones was there for the spectacle. How many other GMs would be there on a draft day? All of the work leading up to the draft was complete by then, but it again leads to questions about the priorities.

When the Cowboys lost 37-36 to the Green Bay Packers last season, Jones was asked on 105.3 The Fan if he worried about fan apathy.

“Not with games like the other day,” Jones said. “That’s a show, if you want to look at it that way.”

How many other GMs would look at it that way? None.

But how the Cowboys have operated this offseason might be the beginning of something different in how Jones separates the owner from the general manager. The Cowboys made difficult decisions on DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Miles Austin. They have eschewed the big-name signings and even the Melton deal is essentially for one year and $3.5 million.

Will they be bold and move way up in the first round? It doesn’t sound like that is in their plans. They could move down and collect more selections, which would be smart. They could take the best player available approach, which would be smart too.

It will be up to Jones the general manager.

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